If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while a home practice has probably crossed your mind. Seventeen years ago was when it first crossed mine. I was practicing regularly at a heated vinyasa flow studio when my teacher asked how my home practice was coming along. I’m pretty sure I had a deer caught in headlights when I responded, “What practice?” She explained how coming to class was great for guidance and community, but that a personal practice was where some of the juiciest parts of yoga could be found. I was sold!
But, how to practice at home?
I thumbed though back copies my two yoga magazine subscriptions, (this was before internet mania) Yoga Journal and Yoga International, for some guidance. I put together a few of their suggested sequences and added a few poses I remembered from class (some that I absolutely loved and a couple that I absolutely loathed for good measure). I did this self-practice on days the studio didn’t offer classes.
At that time my husband was working long hours as a chef so I often had the house to myself, and it was prior to having three kids, so I also had the luxury of practicing when I wanted to. This served me for a while. Soon after that I took my first Yoga Teacher Training and began teaching yoga.
I quickly found myself teaching a ton of classes and frankly burned myself out on yoga. I’ve seen and heard this is a common trap many new teachers fall into. Like the car mechanic who has good intention to fix up their own car, but not the time or desire to complete.
I set aside my personal yoga practice, but there came a point in teaching that I felt I was losing my mojo, my buzz and I suspected it was because I wasn’t attending to my own yoga practice. Sure enough when I brought the focus and self-care of a home practice back into my life I noticed a change in my energy and teachings and it was noticeable to students, too. I practiced, admittedly not daily, but I made it on my mat more often than not.
My personal practice continued to ebb and flow as we grew our family and changed careers. After opening my own studio in 2008 I decided to get take a second yoga teacher training. The teacher I found was at that time developing his own style of a personal yoga practice. I began practicing in that style six days a week. This was also I time I really started to pay attention to my diet. My body transformed as a result of this synergy and I really liked the way I felt and looked--maybe too much. I found that I practiced when I was tired, getting sick, had my period and even when I had a few minor practice-induced injuries. For all the aforementioned reasons I would advise a student to take a break, but didn’t allow myself that same kindness. Live and learn. I remember doing my practice at 4 in the morning of my family’s hotel room in complete darkness because I didn’t want to wake them, but still felt I needed to get a practice in during vacation. (dedication or unyielding??)
I didn’t used to think of myself as an all or none, black or white sort of gal, but you might see how this showed up in my personal practice. My practice revealed aspects of my personality-determination, loyalty, achiever. Then I got pregnant with our third child. While I attempted for a bit to keep the same edge to my practice there came a time that I needed to soften and respect the pregnancy, my changing body and my baby. I modified my practice to meet myself where I was at. This served me in many ways. My teacher noticed and commented on this softer, more feminine, more balanced version of myself.
One of the biggest barriers for attending to a personal practice for me was after those babies arrived. The lack of sleep was the biggest challenge. My babies nursed often during the night and I chose not to set an alarm and miss more sleep. Sometimes I would practice in the afternoon when baby slept, but sometimes I needed to sleep myself or choose house/business-owner priorities.
The other tricky part was breastfeeding and the discomfort of doing my practice early in the morning before feeding baby. That didn’t work. I learned that I could do a few poses here and there throughout my day and week. While it didn’t yield the same outcome as a regimented, consistent, first thing in the morning daily practice I knew that it did make a positive difference in my day and how I interacted with the world.
This ‘best that I can in this moment’ personal practice added up and was better than nothing in terms of moving my body, finding my breath and doing something just for me in a time when I was so intensely involved with caring for another. The other piece of this modified practice was meditating, even if I didn’t do asana, which was a beautiful gift and continues to be on days I don’t practice on my mat first.
I did return to my same committed daily practice a few months after my third baby arrived, but was much for aware of my tendency to push myself a little too hard and listened more to my higher self. I can tell anyone concerned if having a child will change their practice that it will, but that can be for the better. I ended up in a better place physically and mentally after having my third baby and honoring that post-baby time to heal and return in a non-violent way to practice.
Today I prefer to practice at my own home or alone at my studio. I crave that quiet alone “me time”. When I am not loving my practice and dragging my feet getting to the mat I do look inwardly to see if there is something greater going on. Sometimes I will dance, hike or journal instead of practicing or just tuck in a few poses throughout the day, much like I did post-baby. I find it freeing and helpful to occasionally take a break from my personal practice. I don’t think it makes my lose my edge, rather it helps me find it again. I know I am a better, kinder, more patient version of myself when I gift myself my own practice and time for meditation on my own terms.
Throughout the years I’ve heard many, many reasons students struggle with a home practice (time, space to do it, other people/pets in the house, discipline/willpower, not sure they are ‘doing it right’ and on and on). Each one of those are valid reasons. I understand why students don’t practice and why they self-sabotage their own practice.
I have learned my ‘WHY’ I practice is always bigger than any challenge/excuse that comes my way to not practice. Discover why you practice-you are worthy of doing this introspective work. Find a teacher that will lovingly support your practice and see in you your potential for growth and guide you when you get off your path. Give yourself some grace. I promise the yoga police will not come knocking at your door if you take a day or week or a few months off of your practice. There are many seasons in our life. Your practice will be there for them all, changing and growing with you.